Around 70,000 people from western Ethiopia are being forcibly relocated under the government’s “villagization” program. The people are taken to new villages that lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare, and educational facilities, according to a recently released Human Rights Watch report.
Human Rights Watch’s Senior Africa Researcher, Ben Rawlence, said women face even harsher impact under the program.
“Villagization impacts women I think disproportionately, as with all situations of humanitarian need and whether it is food insecurity and where people are vulnerable, because I think in two ways," he said. "Firstly those who are resisting the program and who are leading the opposition are mostly young men who of course are then arbitrarily detained or beaten or who then flee. And then in another way because they [the women] are the primary carers, primary source of the family’s food and income and the core of the housing and so on, so they are the ones who are left behind with the children and with the sick, old people.”
The men can return to their fields they were forced to leave or seek resources elsewhere, said Rawlence, but women must often stay behind. “As always it’s often the women who are left behind.”
Rawlence added that Human Rights Watch recorded reports of sexual violence among the women who were being relocated.
“Sexual violence was something that was reported in many of the places where we did the research," he said. "Military forces are notoriously difficult to control, and when you tell them to supervise the movement of people it’s often going to be the case that they will abuse that position and that seems to be what has happened in this case, and we have received twenty reports of sexual violence. Of course, none of those we are able to actually verify and we don’t know if the Ethiopian government is investigating them or not, but experience would say they are probably not.”
At least 8.8 million acres of land in Ethiopia has been leased to foreign and state-owned firms since 2008, and Ethiopia plans to lease a further 5.1 million acres, the report added. The Ethiopian government has denied rights violations and says “villagization” is vital to the nation’s development plans.